Thursday, December 24, 2009

Guess who's hiring? Uncle Sam!

Fascinating article in USA Today. So quick, without looking, tell me, where will you find the highest overall average salary, the government or the private sector?

Bong! If you guessed the private sector, you would be wrong. How wrong?

The average federal worker's pay in 2009 is $71,206, compared with $40,331 in the private sector. Yes, the average salary in the government is 77% higher than in private industry, in the midst of one of the most devastating recessions to hit America.

Now perhaps you don't trust these figures? The salary survey was done by USA Today, which is not exactly a bastion of Conservative or Republican ideology. And they excluded from this survey: the White House, Congress, the postal service, the military and intelligence agencies. I sorta wish they hadn't, but I guess they wanted to be mincingly fair.

Six figure salaries in the federal government have also been on the rise:

  • "When the recession started, the Transportation Department had only one person earning a salary of $170,000 or more. Eighteen months later, 1,690 employees had salaries above $170,000"
  • "Federal employees making salaries of $100,000 or more jumped from 14% to 19% of civil servants during the recession's first 18 months — and that's before overtime pay and bonuses are counted."
And not only are gov't jobs on average higher paying, they are also more secure. In a recession that has cost 7.3 million jobs in the private sector, the federal government is hiring! The government is adding jobs at a rate of nearly 10,000/month.

Think about it. Working for the government has got to be the cushiest gig around. Since gov't agencies don't need to show a profit, there is no incentive for competence or excellence, no reasons to trim expenses or cut out bloat. As Michael Medved points out, if you go into a Joe's Diner and get lousy service, you'll be unlikely to tip the waiter and even more unlikely to return to the restaurant or recommend it to your friends. If, say, Apple doesn't sell enough Ipods this month, their investors will dump their stock like stones. Not so with the American government. If I go into a DMV, wait four hours on line, and am treated with rudeness and incompetence, where will I go the next time I need the address on my driver's license changed? Why, back to the DMV. What other choice do I have? What motive is there for the clerk at the DMV to treat me with courtesy or to go the extra mile for me? What motive is there for the directors of the DMV to figure out a way to make their service more efficient and reduce the waiting time? Will they make more money if they do? Sure. But see, they will also make more money if they don't. The DMV will always have me as a customer. Joe's Diner will not. As Medved says, "In every sense, private, for-profit businesses are more directly and immediately accountable to the public than are taxpayer supported bureaucracies."

Parenthetically, think about this when you consider the possibility of government-run health care. You doing the math? If I have to go back to the DMV three or four times to get my new license plates, that is inconvenient. If I have to go back three or four times to get my new kidney, well, that is just a whole different story, yes? But I digress.

Lest you think that gov't employees suffer in the benefits dept., uh no, they don't. If you work for the federal government, you will receive a generous insurance package and pension plan, along with mandated paid sick, overtime and vacation time. Do all or even most jobs in the private sector guarantee that?

This is your money funding these salaries and packages, taxpayers. Do you get these sorts of perks?

Thinking back on the anger that was expressed over the AIG raises and the rage over the salaries of the top CEO's of some of the bailout companies, I wonder if we will apply the same standards to the bloated salaries of our largely incompetent federal government. I think the American people are at a crossroads now, and we've got some important choices to make. Are we going to continue down the path of being a people of the government or do we want to reinstate a government of the people?


Abandoning Eden said...

You can't just compare the average salary of govt. jobs to non-govt. jobs and make any sort of argument like the one you are making, as those are very different types of industries/jobs. For instance, in non-government jobs the largest employers are in the service/retail/temp industries, which are very low paying jobs and which will bring the average down.

A lot of government jobs (especially federal government) are very high skilled- for instance the government hires tons of people with PhDs to do research, people with college degrees to be in the FBI/CIA/DHS/etc. And not one of those people work for the DMV (those are state employees).

In fact, the lower paid jobs in government are usually state employees- so your argument about the average federal govt. employee income vs. dmv workers is totally off, because DMV workers don't work for the federal government. And the last time I went to the DMV I had no wait time at all. :)

WebGirl said...

AE, you're absolutely correct that the DMV is controlled by the state and I probably shouldn't have conflated state and federal gov't agencies. I was reaching for the greatest example of gov't incompetence that I could find. You are fortunate that the DMV in your state works well, because in New York, it is a nightmare of inexcusable incompetence.

But your argument that the Federal gov't pays more because it has higher educational requirements is faulty. The federal government is currently employing 2.2 million workers and I'm going to guess that an overwhelming percentage of these workers do not hold Phds.

Let me just grab an example at random. This won't actually prove anything, but perhaps it can be illustrative. I just pulled out this job at random: It's a Federal position as a Supervisory Human Resources Specialist, paying between $102,721-$133,543 annually. There are no educational requirements listed (!!!!!), only one year's experience (correct me if I'm reading this wrong). I went to and tried to find a comparable private industries opening, based on the Federal position's description. If you look at, it's a
Recruiter/Human Resources Administrator position. Scanning the duties, they look pretty comparable. This position pays between $60,000-$65,000, and actually does require a B.A. and 3+ years of experience.

Again, not meant as proof, because then you would have to do a very strict apples to apples comparison, but I have a very hard time believing that the Fed. gov't on average has higher educational job requirements than private industry. And the survey of the private sector also includes academia and big business, not just the service industry.

Abandoning Eden said...

that's for a GS-14 level position, and you have to have a year of experience at the GS-13 level (not just a year experience ever). You can only start off with a GS-13 position straight out of school if you have a phd actually, and anything gs-13 and above is a top level job. For instance someone who just graduated college starts off at the Gs5-Gs7 level (depending on any job experience) and I'm pretty sure it takes a minimum of one year on the job to advance to the next level- so to get from a gs7 to a gs14 you would need at least 7 years experience (and you are not guaranteed to go up a step every year, it depends on how well you do the job).

Anyways, that is beside the point, because you can't just arbitrarily pick two jobs and say they are the same- who knows how many people the two jobs supervise, how much responsibility is involved, etc. A human resources supervisory position is very different depending on the number of people working there.

I know in my field government jobs pay right around the same level as non-government industry jobs that are comparable. In fact, I think they pay a less than industry jobs (starting salary around 65k-70k with a phd in the government vs. 80-100k in private industry). I'm not sure about other industries, but it would take an industry/job comparison to be able to make this argument. I know my dad also used to work for the government and his salary took a huge jump when he switched over to private industry.

Also this:
"If you work for the federal government, you will receive a generous insurance package and pension plan, along with mandated paid sick, overtime and vacation time. Do all or even most jobs in the private sector guarantee that?

This is your money funding these salaries and packages, taxpayers. Do you get these sorts of perks?"

I think every job out there should receive health insurance, paid sick, overtime and vacation time. Those should be basic rights. The fact that all jobs DON'T carry those rights is a failure of a public market. But really, are you begrudging people who work full time for having the same basic package that the majority of full time workers in the free market have? It's not like they are getting a month paid vacation every year- something that many European countries have standard.

WebGirl said...

AE, as I said, it's hard for me to prove this because it would have to be a strict apples to apples comparison of positions that are exactly the same and I don't have the tools or information to do that. I thought I would just try some random sampling and see what came back. But I still dispute your claim that gov't employees are on average more educated than private sector employees and therefore should get higher salaries. I need to see numbers.

What you've said about benefits: have you ever owned a small business? I did. I ran a small consulting business and I employed one other person to help me. No way in hell I could have afforded to give her benefits, a pension, 401K and paid time off. She was told that when I hired her and she understood it. In return, she got very personal, one-on-one training, and she was able to move up very quickly and do her own consulting after a year. If I had been forced to buy her health benefits, pension, 401K or give her unpaid time off, I couldn't have hired her. Not all businesses can afford the same level of perks that Uncle Sam can, and these are not rights. They are privileges.

WebGirl said...

AE, I've been thinking about it, and you know what? Even if it were true that the gov't hires more educated workers (and I'm not conceding that but still), that's no excuse for a 77% average difference in salary, for salary increases that are twice the average increase in the private sector or for adding 10,000 new jobs each month in the middle of a horrific recession.